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Appeals court denies future medical costs in back injury case

workers comp

A woman who injured her back while providing medical care to people in their homes but continued to run in races was denied future medical costs as part of her workers compensation claim, according to an appeals ruling issued Tuesday in Nebraska.

Melina Arroyo, while working as a supervisor for Caring for People Services Inc. in early 2018, injured her back while trying to prevent an obese patient from falling out of his bed. She described her pain as intense and radiating, and said she felt the same pain while helping other patients on two separate occasions in the days that followed, according to documents in Melina Arroyo v. Caring for People Services, Inc., filed in the Court of Appeals of Nebraska in Papillion.

She testified that prior to her injuries she ran 15 to 20 miles a week and was training for a 13.1-mile half marathon, which she ran in May 2018 despite being treated for her back pain. She left her job at Care for People one month after her injury.

Over the course of a year she was evaluated by two physicians, who gave conflicting testimony about her recovery and capabilities. Her original treating physician testified that she may need further treatment for the “foreseeable future,” while a physician hired by Caring for People testified that while she may still experience pain, deeming her 1% impaired, Ms. Arroyo “had demonstrated the ability to exercise and complete tasks without restriction over the last year and that he would not place any permanent restrictions on her occupation going forward,” according to documents in the case. Four months after that second evaluation, Ms. Arroyo ran a 10-kilometer race.

In late 2019, the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Court awarded her benefits based on its finding of a 5% loss of earning capacity and ordered Caring for People to pay past medical and mileage expenses incurred by Ms. Arroyo. Yet the court declined to award her future medical expenses, which she appealed.

The appeals court, finding that the decision came down to conflicting medical testimony, wrote in its ruling: “Where the record presents nothing more than conflicting medical testimony, this court will not substitute its judgment for that of the compensation court.”